Snarcasm: Let’s Talk About How the Oscars Don’t Matter (Again)

oscars don't matter

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read. 

A hit piece on why the Academy Awards are pointless comes about once every 33 seconds, like a YouTube comment about how Donald Trump supposedly “tells it how it is” or a Tweet referencing that other thing you don’t like.

What I never come across is an article that says, “Well, the Oscars are important for good reasons you’re probably not aware of.” Not a surprise considering conversations around the Oscars usually boil down to a few clever hashtags, rather than some real discussion.

And who better to trash the Oscars than a film critic? Joanna Connors wrote this thinker for the aptly named Cleveland.com,

Oscars 2016: Why the Academy Awards matter, and why they don’t

Spoiler alert: she only talks about why they don’t matter, but you knew that already.

 As we approach the total fabulosity that is the annual Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night…

Look, just because “fabulosity” is technically a word doesn’t mean we, as a society, should remind everyone.

…I find that I can barely dredge up even mild excitement about it.

That’s terrible news for everyone.

Maybe it’s the #OscarsSoWhite issue.

Reasonable.

Maybe it’s that “The Revenant,” a movie I loathed, is poised to win a lot of the awards.

Even more reasonable. I also loathed The Revenant.

Maybe it’s the very idea of ranking films at all, the absurdity of declaring one better than all the others.

Are you seriously criticizing the practice of ranking? You know, that thing everyone instinctively does, proving why Buzzfeed is the first thing you see on Facebook every morning?

It’s not absurd to award someone for doing something competently. It just so happens that the only useful way to evaluate competence is through comparison, AKA ranking. Pretending this practice is somehow insane is what’s truly insane.

Whatever the cause, I’ve had so little interest in the Oscars over the past few weeks that I’ve started to wonder: Do they really matter?

I’ve had this same existential crisis about craft beer and Jennifer Lawrence, but you don’t see me protesting Hunger Games with a Bud Light in my hand.

Of course they matter to the people who win them. Obviously. Winners get that exciting moment in the spotlight and the chance to thank their minions ad nauseam.

OK, let’s attack people who get excited about winning the most prestigious award in entertainment. How dare they value themselves?

And if we’re going to call earnest fans of a movie “minions,” then what does that make your readers, Joanna?

They reap more tangible benefits, too. Money. Winning actors, actresses, directors and even some below-the-line workers such as art directors will see their price tags go up for future movies. Winning films will get a nice bump at the box office.

In other words, the Oscars have gone on to greatly benefit filmmakers by giving them enough prestige to create more interesting, remarkable films. Well, sometimes that’s how it works out.

But apparently, none of that matters because Joanna hates “top 10” lists.

But do the Oscars matter as a judge of artistic merit? No. They don’t. They never have.

“This ultimately subjective practice has absolutely never been subjective.”

Don’t believe me?

Hey, at least she’s self aware.

OK. Let’s do this. Close your eyes, just for a moment, and think back to your high school prom. (Don’t worry: This will only sting a little.)

Is she talking to herself at this point? Fine, I’ll go along with this.

closes eyes to imagine prom

All I see is a cover band doing a terrible rendition of “Hey There, Delilah.”

Got the image? A parade of lovely, over-made-up girls wearing beautiful, overpriced gowns, some of them revealing much more than their fathers would like. Boys in tuxedoes, staring dumbfounded at the girls.

So at this point, Joanna is deriding the very existence of prom, including your own, in order to illustrate a completely unrelated point.

“Hey, prom is meaningless! Just like your dreams.”

SHE IS A FILM CRITIC!

You’re mingling with people you know – everyone knows them — but you’ve never actually spoken to a lot of them. You’re nervous and excited.

Yes, Joanna gets paid to write about movies. But no judgement here, considering the band is now doing “Dangerous” by Kardinal.

Everyone is buzzing: Who’s the most popular? Who will score tonight? And, most important, who will be crowned prom queen and king?

Go on.

Now, step back for a minute and imagine that almost all the people who get to vote for the king and queen are 63-year-old white guys, many of whom have not set foot in a high school (or on a set) in years.

She…she’s joking. She has to be joking. This can’t be real.

Some of them have never even seen the kids they vote for; they’re voting based on what their friends – and probably their grandchildren – like.

Please, for the love of Snarcasm, don’t let this be her metaphor.

And so, ladies and gentlemen: There you have it. The Oscars!

No. Just no. This…NO.

Joanna, your metaphor/analogy, or whatever you want to call this is wrong on every level I can fathom. For one thing, you seem to have absolutely no knowledge about what the criteria is for being in the Academy. In your mind, you just have to be an old white guy, apparently.

And I don’t blame you for this assumption, considering that is what the Academy is mostly composed of. But have you ever wondered why?

The Academy is made up of the top filmmakers, writers, engineers, technicians, and actors of all time. Their knowledge of what it takes to make a great film make your prom analogy read like a 7th grade essay on Huckleberry Finn. 

People in the Academy have won Oscars in the past, which is a practice that ensures the very artistic merit you’re questioning. Is this perfect? No, because the traditionally white institution has led to exactly what you’re complaining about in terms of age and demographics, and this won’t be resolved until Hollywood itself grows more diversely.

Either way, it’s the antithesis of some creepy old dudes voting on prom king and queen, which is just a cheap shot.

Being “prom king and queen” is built on relationships between high schoolers. Winning an Oscar is determined by artistic evaluation of a film by the best people in the craft. Undermining the Academy in this way is like saying a film critic is useless because I once ate bad fish sticks at a Red Lobster recommended by Yelp.

A popularity contest that has almost nothing to do with artistic merit, decided by mostly white, mostly male, mostly older voters who are not required to see all of the nominated films, and probably haven’t.

If it’s just a popularity contest, then why do unpopular movies win so often? (She references this later on by saying Citizen Kane lost to a movie no one’s ever heard of).

And the assertion that these voters haven’t seen most of the nominated films is misleading, considering the fact that they would have to watch over 500 films in a year in order to do so. That’s why marketing and Oscar buzz is such a crucial facet of this process. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s vastly more effective than strapping these guys and gals to a chair and forcing them to watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

How many of these guys saw Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation”? How many of them have even heard of Idris Elba?

I agree that Beasts of No Nation deserved a nomination, but Joanna is just guessing that they didn’t watch the film at all because it helps her opinion look correct. In fact, she even cites an anonymous voter later in this article who HAS watched Beasts and talks about why he doesn’t like it, refuting this entire point altogether.

Led by its president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy is taking steps to correct this imbalance. But that may take a few years, and even then, there’s no guarantee the voters will actually see the nominated films. Even if they do, they might still vote based on personal popularity.

The alternative is forcing these voters to watch a preselected list of movies that deserve to win Oscars based on the opinion of…who knows? See, it’s not reasonable to make sure they watch all of these films, but it’s also unreasonable to assume they need to. The Oscars are an institution built on popularity integrated with artistic evaluation. Trying to forcibly shut one of these aspects out is just absurd.

Joanna goes on to cite three examples of Academy voters who said mean things about actors in the nomination. Yeah, hard-hitting evidence:

explaining why he won’t vote for Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor, the voter said, “He’s a pig…. I can’t stand Sly as a person.”

“Tommy Lee Jones has been such a bitter guy — all that scowling at the Golden Globes? I’m telling you, people don’t like the guy.”

“Jennifer Lawrence I was on the fence about, but she lost me with that ‘Saturday Night Live’ bit [in which she ‘trash-talked’ her fellow nominees]; I thought it was mean-spirited and shows a lack of maturity on her part.”

Sound like high school to you?

Yes, because you purposefully leave out important information in order to mischaracterize what was really said by these voters.

Let’s take the voter who said “I can’t stand Sly as a person.” This wasn’t all he said. His entire quote includes that he didn’t think Stallone’s performance was all that great compared to Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy. In other words, he evaluated an actor and compared him to the competition. Mentioning his personal disdain of Stallone was an aside.

In the rest of that article, the voter even mentions how he nominated Tangerine, which stars actors of color and is about a transgender sex worker, for Best Picture. He also gushes about SpotlightThe Revenant, and other movies in a meaningful way. In other words, he’s a person, not a quarterback.

That quote about Tommy Lee Jones? Buried in a sea of sound criticism yet plucked out of context in order to make some grandiose point.

See, these voters weren’t really just talking about their reasons for voting. They were digging into their overall perceptions and how that shaped their opinions. There’s a lot of substance in their commentary, but Joanna noticeably draws attention away from their artistic merit in order to prove they have none.

Do I need to list all the great movies that should have won the Academy Award and did not?

A pointless exercise. Yes, we all know the Academy doesn’t get it right all the time, but that’s simply because the voting process actually isn’t much of a popularity contest. It’s more of a percentage contest that can split votes and create surprises.

Going further, we have other award shows that pay attention to what the critics and general audiences like. Those are the shows that will award movies that remain in the minds of most people for years, but that doesn’t mean the Oscars need to do the same. If we only go by the films “everyone likes,” then that means Fast and Furious 7 should be up for Best Picture.

Roger Ebert himself once said that the Oscars are important because of how they draw attention to what the industry honors each given year. Even if they get it wrong sometimes, that’s fine because we still glean insight from these decisions and how they shed light on cinema of the past.

I could go on, but I’m feeling too depressed.

Over the Oscars not being exactly the way you want them to be? For someone who doesn’t think the Oscars matter, you’re getting pretty riled up over them. That or the prom experiment took an unexpected toll on you.

I’ll watch the Oscars Sunday, because it’s my job. Otherwise, I wouldn’t. I confess that I haven’t watched in past years, when it wasn’t my job.

That’s so interesting.

oscars don't matter

Not even the dresses interest me any more, now that the stars don’t dress themselves and rely instead on stylists and designer freebies.

Yup, even the fashion is corrupted. Keep going, Joanna.

Where’s the fun in everyone looking perfect? Why does anyone care who they’re wearing, if it wasn’t their choice?

This is so tedious. It actually depresses you that people work hard to look good when thousands of cameras are blaring at them. Next week, Joanna is going to write an article about how much she hates colorful logos on dish soap.

This year, the only thing that sparks my interest is what the host, Chris Rock, will say in his monologue about the All White Oscars. I can’t wait to hear his message to all those older white guys who have been in Academy forever, the ones who will give Leonardo DiCaprio the Best Actor Oscar because – well, because he’s such a great guy! Everybody loves Leo! Haven’t seen the movie, but they say he’s wonderful in it.

That’s right, Joanna is asserting that most of these guys haven’t even seen The Revenant, a box office smash with audiences and critics. She has no evidence for this aside from the quote that says the voters don’t see “everything,” which consists of hundreds of movies she hasn’t seen either.

And I just want to point out that Joanna’s dripping, dramatic, disdain for this collective group of homogenous human beings feels just like the thing she’s criticizing them for. Irony? Coincidence? Apathy? Take your pick.

Also, I forgot to mention that one of the voters she criticizes early on in this article hates The Revenant just as much as she does. But I’m guessing she just skimmed the parts of the article that didn’t support her rant.

OK, but do the Oscars matter?

Well, do movies matter? Because if so, then a ceremony that attempts to highlight the best of cinema certainly matters. We can debate all day on how good of a job the Academy is doing, but dismissing them entirely is a pure exercise in immaturity, akin to telling your readers how depressed you are that celebrities love to wear dresses.

The problem is that it’s so incredibly easy to say the Oscars don’t matter. You can throw in your two cents right now and complain away about the Academy and how flawed it is. In fact, it’s “cool” to hate on the Oscars, judging by how quick people are to jump on criticizing it.

Yet just take a look at some of the movies elected this year. Who would have guessed that Mad Max: Fury Road (the most non-Oscar bait movie of all time) would be nominated for 10 awards, including Best Picture? Or The Martian, a sci-fi blockbuster featuring a director no one has cared about in years getting a nod, despite being filled with scientists who aren’t evil for a change?

My point is that while the Oscars aren’t perfect, they continue to change. “Oscar bait” as we know it today is incredibly different from the tastes of a decade ago. The Academy gains new voters—and new perspectives—every year. And countless people will watch great movies every year because they watched the Oscars, a curated collection of movies that matter to the people who make them.

Let’s continue to hold the Academy accountable for a lot of things, but can we please get off this absurd conclusion that they don’t matter because they may not matter to you?


Hey! If you’ve come across a silly article that deserves the Snarcasm treatment, send it my way via Twitter or the comments below!

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

71 thoughts

  1. Maybe I’m too cynical, but if the Oscars are like the music biz, they can be bought and sold as marketing tools. An ordinary object becomes extraordinary with an award attached to it. Granted, I think it’s fun. But I can’t relate to the competitiveness, or picture of a picture of a picture framing effect of movies on reality. Thanks!

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  2. Every thing here is an opinion, but a good one and is a good laugh some people enjoy the oscars for certain things, some people even watch it because they are hoping its just like when ellen hosted it

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  3. I’m all for the Oscars, I think they are important as a mainstream platform to highlight the (supposedly) best of cinema. What’s a bit worrying sometimes is the bias that can come into play, especially in the importance of campaigning and background.
    Did DiCaprio win because he truly deserved to for the Revenant or because he campaigned a lot for it and everyone and their grand-mother wanted him to win?
    When you’re not sure if someone won the award for their artistic merit or because they asked for it loudly enough, it can make you doubt the whole thing.
    Despite this I still think the Oscars do matter as a way to put the art of film forward, even if the nominations and awards are not always satisfactory, with sometimes pretty big snubs and favorites.

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